Online marketing for small business | SMB forum by

14 MINS Team

In this in-depth article, you’re going to learn five of the best online marketing tips for small business we’ve seen across the web.

You won’t find basic tactics like “set up a Facebook page” here. Instead, we’ve curated our favourite advanced business marketing tips that ensure you generate and retain new customers on a regular basis.

If you’re new to small business marketing, you’ll find these to be incredibly effective. And if you’re a marketing pro? There are plenty of gems to take your small business growth to the next level

1. Turn Customers Into Advocates

You may remember the time when Morton’s Steak House sent Peter Shankman (author of “Faster Than Normal”) a steak to the airport, simply because he asked them over Twitter.

Or the time Sainsbury’s replied to a 3 year old’s letter about their Tiger Bread, only to go viral and lead them to actually change the name of the bread:

While these acts of generosity create a lot of virality and chatter, they’re random and unscalable. According to Jay Baer, however, there’s a better option:

“A better approach—and a more strategic one—is to create a Talk Trigger for your business. A Talk Trigger is a strategic, operational choice that compels word of mouth. It’s an intentionally delivered differentiator that causes customer conversation every single day.”

Baer goes on to talk about how DoubleTree Hotels do this with cookies. For the last 30 years they’ve given every guest a cookie when they check-in. According to Baer, they bake 75,000 cookies every day.

This simple gesture turns customers into advocates, building their brand and generating word-of-mouth referrals. This is the power of referrals and advocacy.Referral marketing can be a scalable and profitable way of getting new customers. Indeed, people trust their friends more than the advertising that talk about the same message. But how do you foster advocacy and turn customers into raving fans?

No matter what size your business, it all starts by identifying two types of people:

  1. Customers who do business with you on a regular basis
  2. Customers who already refer new customers to you

To do this, you must start by measuring where every single customers comes from. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, this means training staff to ask how your customers found you. If you rely on your website to generate customers, look at your data in Google Analytics. Ask how customers on various pages on your website:

Once you’ve identified customers who found you through word-of-mouth, ask who exactly referred them. These are the people who are already acting as advocates for your business.

Next, identify the top 10% of your customers. These customers buy from you most frequently and spend the most when they do. They need a nudge to refer you if they aren’t already doing so.

You now have a list of potential advocates. It’s time to create a referral system that makes it easy for them to spread the word and get rewarded for it. There are several tools out there that can do this:

  • Belly: Allows you to create a digital loyalty card system for your brick-and-mortar business. No need to waste paper and ink on stamps!
  • ReferralCandy: Create a digital referral program directly on your website. Create landing pages that track and reward your most loyal referrers.
advanced online marketing tips referral candy

With your chosen system in place, it’s time to launch. Take your list of existing promoters and let them know about your new program. Show that you’ve noticed how they spread the word and that you want to reward them for it.

Be careful when choosing an incentive. It must be relevant to your business and should encourage them to continue doing business with you. For example, Greats offer both advocates and their friends $10 offer their sneakers:

Finally, provide your top advocates with special treatment. While your referral program should be accessible to everyone, your top 10% customers should know how special they are. Do this by giving them free products or services without them even asking. Invite them to exclusive events and make them feel like celebrities. This is how you foster advocacy.

2. Grow & Manage Reputation With Online Reviews

Reputation management isn’t only something large brands must worry about. No matter what size your business is, you need to know what your customers are saying about you.

For many small businesses, reviews are the holy grail of marketing. According to a study by ReviewTrackers, 94% of consumers are driven away by negative reviews. Furthermore, 80% of consumers don’t trust businesses with a rating below 4 stars.

Before we explore how to generate more 5-star reviews, let’s talk about managing and monitoring your brand. This means tracking the reviews you’re already generating.

If you already have a Google My Business page set up, you can easily monitor reviews:

But what about social media and websites you don’t have more control over? There are several solutions for these platforms:

  • Google Alerts: Use this free tool to monitor mentions of your brand on the web. Get alerts through daily, weekly or as they happen.
  • Mention: A slightly more sophisticated tool that allows you to monitor mentions of your brand on the web. You can also use this to keep an eye on your competitors:

So, what should you do when someone talks about your business online? First, respond as quickly as possibleno matter if it’s positive or negative. People love to be acknowledged for appreciating brands and products, but the negative reviews make more of an impact and should be resolved quickly.

Aim to take the conversation to a private medium, such as direct messages or email. Get to the bottom of their complaint, clear up any misunderstandings and make things right.

You know good reviews can make a huge impact on your business. The question is, how do you generate them? Here are a few simple ways to encourage customers to leave reviews:

  • Ask them! Before they leave your store, ask if they had a positive experience and if they’d be willing to leave a review. Put it on your website, your in-store material (flyers, menus etc.) and a sign at check-out.
  • Talk with your customers on social media. Use the platforms they use. Tweet and comment on their content. People are more likely to share and recommend friends if you communicate with them on a regular basis.
  • Invest in customer service. Your support staff are the front-line of your business. A delightful customer experience is key to building a good reputation. Train your customer support teams to provide a delightful experience and know when to ask for reviews.

While Google is seen as the holy grail of reviews, your customers are on other platforms. One of the biggest, of course, being Facebook. To enable Facebook reviews, head to your business page and navigate to Settings > Edit Page > Add Tab. From there, select reviews.

Mari Smith talks all about Facebook reviews in her Live video “How to Increase Online Reviews Using Facebook.”

3. Connect With Your Audience Using Video

Video used to be a daunting prospect for small businesses. Thankfully, due to the increased accessibility in technology, creating great video content is easy and affordable for everyone.

According to HubSpot, 78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day. Furthermore, people retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading text (Forbes).

These statistics are all well and good, but how does video content lead to real, tangible business results?

  • Traffic: By creating video and distributing it out to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, you’ll drive more traffic to your website.
  • Engagement: Using video on your website captures prospect’s attention and provides a better experience for visitors.
  • Leads: If you’re in the B2B space, you can capture leads directly from your video content thanks to technology like Wistia’s Turnstile feature.Sales: Include calls-to-action in your video to compel viewers to take action after watching.
  • Branding: It’s hard to build a connection with text on a screen. By putting your personality forward, you create deeper relationships with your audience.

There are many ways to use video. Let’s explore some successful examples, starting with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams:

This small ice cream shop from Ohio is a prime example of how you don’t need a high-budget production team to create engaging videos. Watching how their sandwiches are made is enough to make you want one.

You can emulate this by showing how your own products are created, used and consumed in the real world. You can even get your customers involved, just like helpdesk software Groove do:

Here, Groove let their customers do the talking. They focus on their pains, challenges and how the Groove platform solves them.

These are just a few examples of how video marketing can work for your business. So, how do you go about making them? Here’s a quick checklist on what you need to get started:

  1. Location: Find a studio, public place or area in your office/shop/restaurant to create your video. If you’re using animation, then you’ll need to find a talented animator.
  2. Lighting: This is key! Either find a space with great natural light or pick up a lighting kit (which you can get for under $100).
  3. Camera: You don’t need to get fancy here. Most modern smartphones are capable of capturing high-quality footage these days. If you’re looking to invest in something more sophisticated, check out this guide from TechRadar.
  4. Audio: People need to hear you loud and clear! Pick up a good microphone for your device and check out Wistia’s guide to recording audio for business video.
  5. Script: This acts as the template for your video, which is key if you’re filming direct to camera. Consider things like tone and choice of words, as well as the mood you want to convey with your video.
  6. Editing: Once you’ve got your footage, it’s time to put it together in a way that builds a story. You can use tools like iMovie or Adobe Premier to effectively edit your video.
  7. Hosting: You need to upload your video in a place that’s easily accessible and can be embedded on your website. YouTube is great for attracting attention, whereas a tool like Wistia will provide analytics and branding options to optimize the overall experience.

Once you’ve created and uploaded your video, it’s time to share and promote it. Do this by sharing it through your email list, social media profiles and embedding it on your website.

4. Build an Influencer Network

If you’re active on social media, you’re likely aware of the influencer marketing trend that has exploded in recent years. For those not in the know, influencer marketing is where brands partner with social media influencers to promote products with a broader audience.

For small businesses, the traditional influencer marketing model can be expensive. Indeed, the most popular influencers charge upwards of $100,000. But there is a cheaper and effective alternative.

This alternative comes in the form of micro-influencers. These individuals have created a smaller but highly engaged audience around a niche topic, ranging from photography to vegan recipes.

The first step to this process is finding the right influencers. You can do this with a simple hashtag search on Twitter or Instagram for a relevant keyword:

You’ll then see the most popular, recent posts for this hashtag. Go through each account and look for those with a following of 1,000 to 10,000 people. Accounts with an audience this size are usually happy to promote you in exchange for free products, making them extremely affordable.

If you operate locally, search for recent and popular posts in your location and go through the same process:

Make a list of all accounts you believe would be a good fit. Next, it’s time to build relationships. Do this by commenting and sharing their content out to your own audience. When adding comments, make sure you contribute to the conversation or add value in some way:

Once you’ve built some awareness with your influencers, reach out to them with your idea. You can either direct message them on social or send them an email (if they’ve included it in their profile).

When pitching your campaign, include the following:

  • Your idea and what you hope to achieve
  • Why they’d find it of interest and how they’d benefit
  • Names and profiles of other people you have worked with/hope to be working with

Creating influencer marketing content doesn’t need to be complex. For example, if you’re a restaurant owner, you could simply invite your target influencers for a free meal. In exchange, they would create content while they’re there and spread the word to their audience:

Influencer campaigns can come in all shapes and sizes, including:

  • Story-driven posts and video content
  • Giveaways and contests
  • Product placements
  • Behind the scenes of your business
  • Collaborations on co-branded content (great when working with other businesses)

Here’s a great example of a collaboration with Amazon on Twitter, where Katie Piper sent a series of “Guess the tale” posts for Roald Dahl Day:

This encourages participation from her audience while taking advantage of a timely event. You don’t need to be Amazon to create a campaign this simple, just some creativity.

5. Foster an Audience With Email Marketing

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Quora. These are all platforms where your customers can be found. The trouble is, you don’t own this audience.

Sure, you might get thousands of people liking your business page on Facebook. But as soon as Facebook makes changes that choke your organic reach, your business might be in trouble. A better solution? Build your own audience.

How do you do this? By creating your own email list. Now, if you’re reading this thinking email is dead, think again. According to Statista, there were 3.7 billion email users in 2017, with that number projected to reach 4.2 billion by 2022:

Indeed, usage isn’t dropping, it’s growing every year.

However, this presents another challenge. People are bombarded with email marketing every single day. According to Smart Insights, open rates range between 18.05% 36.59% depending on industry:

There’s a great opportunity here. In our (anecdotal) experience, most small business emails rank below average. So, let’s dig into how to create a great email marketing system that increases sales.

First, you need to capture email addresses in the first place. Acquiring your existing customer’s email addresses can be simple (depending on your business model). For example, if someone books an appointment from your website, they’ll need to hand their email address over for confirmation:

For brick-and-mortar businesses, you must incentivize. You can do this using contests where the customer has a chance to win free products and services, or discounts on their next order.

These techniques are great for capturing existing customer details. But email marketing should foster relationships with new prospects, too. Do this using similar techniques as above, through your digital marketing campaigns. For example, here’s a Facebook Ad from Boots & Hearts Music Festival giving away free tickets:

Another way you can capture email addresses is with entertaining or helpful content. For example, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing uses their blog to share helpful plumbing tips to help people solve simple plumbing challenges by themselves:

When someone is ready to call a plumber, they’ll likely call Benjamin Franklin. However, they could also use calls-to-action throughout their blog posts to capture email addresses in exchange for something of extra value. These can include:

  • Lead magnets: Ebooks, webinars and other long-form pieces of content that people can download when they enter their email addresses.Relevant contests: Again, run contests offering free products/services. Make sure these are relevant to your business. People entering to win a new iPhone are unlikely to become customers.
  • Discounts: Offer discounts when someone signs up to your email list.
  • Newsletters: If your content is being raved about on social media, it’s likely they’ll want to hear from you on a regular basis.Once you’re steadily building an email list, it’s time to stay in touch by sending compelling and engaging emails.

A good small business email must contain (at least) the following:

  • Subject line: Your subject line must encourage people to open your email. Use copy that creates intrigue to entice people to open.
  • Body: This is the main content of your email. You can either use plain text or a designed layout with plenty of imagery.
  • Images: Use reinforcing imagery to illustrate what you’re offering.
  • Call-to-action: What do you want your subscribers and customers to do? This should usually be to click-through to a product or landing page.

For example, Tampa dental practice Wang and Cortes use a blend of sales-driven and seasonal emails to keep customers engaged and to encourage new patients to book an appointment:

These two emails target different stages of the marketing funnel. The Halloween contest email targets those at the top of the funnel, which are prospects who have not yet become patients (or past patients who have not visited in a while).

Sales emails target the bottom of the funnel. For example, retail brand Coach use email newsletters to showcase new and featured products:

It’s important to send the right emails to the right customers and subscribers. For example, you may want to send informational content to people who are not yet ready to buy. While regular customers should receive bonuses and rewards for their loyalty.

Over time, you’ll build a loyal and engaged list of subscribers. No matter what changes Facebook makes, this is an audience you own and control.

Tell us: how helpful do you find these tips? Are there any you’re eager to try after reading this guide? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash/Dardan
All screenshots by author. Taken November 2018.
Image 1, 15: Twitter
Image 2: BBC
Image 3: Shopify
Image 4: Belly
Image 5: Referral Candy
Image 6: Greats
Image 7: Synup
Image 8: Mention
Image 9: Facebook
Image 10: Groove
Image 11-14: Instagram
Image 16: Madison Reed
Image 17: Social Media Examiner
Image 18: My Dental Agency
Image 19: Rejoiner

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